The Cheesecake Roundup: Tips & Tricks for the Perfect Pie

The Cheesecake Roundup: Tips & Tricks for the Perfect Pie

Plus three unconventional cheesecake recipes for Shavuot.

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On Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah, but it wouldn’t really be a proper Jewish holiday unless there was some food component too. Shavuot is when we consume all sorts of dairy dishes. Especially cheese cake. Of course there are other traditional foods for this holiday (blintzes come to mind) but cheesecake is in first place among all of them. I never needed an excuse to have a slice or two. On the other hand, this dish is so high-calorie and indulgent I usually wait for Shavuot to bake one. My favorite is classic New York style: plain, dense and creamy, with a flash of fresh citrus.

But podiatrist and food blogger Jonathan Margolin—the “Kosher Food Doctor”—likes to mix it up every holiday. Not one for something as plain as I like it, he sometimes fancies up a cheese cake with cherries, or sprinkles the top with coconut or crushed pistachio nuts. This year he is going all out with a Latin American inspired topping called brigadeiro, made with cocoa, butter and condensed milk. It’s thick, ultra-sweet and fudgy, for fans who appreciate the cheese part but could always do with a bit of chocolate. Recipe below.

Let’s start at the beginning though. If you’re thinking about preparing a cheesecake, the first item on the ingredient list is—the cheese. What kind should you use?

Jonathan is partial to dense cheesecake, so he uses an all cream cheese batter. But Helen Goldrein, a kosher food blogger and cookbook author from Cambridge, U.K., prefers a lighter, fluffier version so she makes her cakes with “old fashioned curd cheese” (in the United States that would be “farmer cheese” or dry cottage cheese) which she says is “slightly tarter and not quite as smooth as regular cream cheese.” As for me, the richer, the better. So I make my cakes with cream cheese, but mix in some dairy sour cream and whipping cream too.

Classic New York style cheese cakes are kind of sparse when it comes to flavoring – a bit of vanilla extract, maybe some grated lemon and/or orange peel. But there are all kinds of mix-ins that add different tastes and textures – mashed pumpkin or swirls of caramel and of course, melted chocolate. Helen told me that although she once made a white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake that “was quite delicious,” she’s “not a huge fan of chocolate cheese cake.” I agree. For me it’s like that old nursery rhyme says: the cheese stands alone and not much else is needed to make it fabulous.

No crust is needed, but most cheesecake recipes call for sprinkling the pan with graham cracker crumbs, which helps keep the batter from sticking to the bottom and sides of the cake pan. Any kind of crumb will do – crushed gingersnaps, chocolate wafers and so on, or even ground nuts. On the other hand, if you’re like Jonathan, who says “I love a good buttery crust!” – go ahead and crust it up with crushed vanilla tea biscuits and a bountiful amount of butter. 

The best way to bake a cheesecake is in a springform pan or specialized cheesecake pan with a removable bottom. Either of these makes it easy to unmold the cake for serving. It also helps to use a water bath – that is, place the filled cake pan inside a larger pan that contains water. The steam that comes from the water as it heats in the oven helps prevent cracks on the top of the cake, although that’s not guaranteed! If your cake cracks no one will really care, but of course you can sprinkle confectioner’s sugar on top, add berries or even whipped cream to cover them up.

One more thing to consider – if you don’t want to make a whole cake or if you can’t because you can’t find your springform pan or because you’d like to keep the cheese cake theme but not do the whole cake, perhaps some cheesecake cookies? They’re smaller, make more servings than a regular cheesecake and are every bit as wonderful.

*cooking times noted in the recipes do not include cooling/refrigeration time. All recipes have been reprinted with permission of the author. 


Ronnie Fein’s New York Cheesecake


Image: Courtesy of Ronnie Fein

Prep time: 45 minutes
Makes 8-10 servings
Cooking time: about 70 minutes

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons butter
  • 1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs (approximately)
  • 1-1/2 pounds cream cheese (3-8 ounce packages)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon peel
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated orange peel
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup dairy sour cream or unflavored yogurt
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the butter on the bottom and sides of a 9" springform pan. Sprinkle the inside of the pan with the graham cracker crumbs. Shake the pan to coat the bottom and sides of the pan completely.
  2. Beat the cream cheese, lemon peel and orange peel together in a large bowl for 1-2 minutes or until the cheese has softened and is smooth. Gradually add the vanilla extract, cream and sugar and beat the ingredients with an electric mixer set on medium speed for 2-3 minutes or until the mixture is smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in the sour cream.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Place the springform pan inside a larger pan. Fill the larger pan with enough hot water to come at least 1-inch up the sides of the baking dish.
  5. Bake for about 65-70 minutes or until the top of the cake is tanning lightly.
  6. Remove the springform pan from the water and let the cake cool in the springform pan. When the cake has reached room temperature, refrigerate it at least 4 hours or until it is thoroughly chilled. Remove the sides of the pan to serve the cake.

 


Jonathan Margolin’s Brigadeiro Cheese Cake

Image: Courtesy of Jonathan Margolin
Prep time: one hour
Makes 12-15 servings
Cooking time: two hours

  • 1-1/2 cups ground vanilla tea biscuits
  • 1/3 cup melted unsalted butter
  • 4 8-ounce packages cream cheese
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs

Brigadeiro Topping:

  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
  • 14 ounce can condensed milk
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup chocolate sprinkles
  1. Preheat your oven to 325°F. Using a food processor place the tea biscuits in it and process until it is a fine crumb. Then combine well with the melted butter in a bowl. In a non-greased 9-inch springform pan press the crumb mixture in the bottom of the pan until it is evenly distributed.
  2. In a bowl place the cream cheese, 1 cup sugar and vanilla and mix with a mixer until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing on low speed. When the mixture is well mixed then pour it over the crust. Bake for 55 minutes or until center is almost set. Then remove from the oven and let it cool. Then place it in the refrigerator and cool. Refrigerate the cheesecake for about 4 hours to allow it to set.
  3. To make the Brigadeiro:
  4. Place the butter in a medium saucepan and melt it over medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted add the condensed milk, cocoa powder and whisk until well incorporated. Cook the mixture until it thickens enough when stirring, for about 15-20 minutes. 
  5. The consistency should be firm enough to stay together. Pour it directly into a dish or a bowl and let cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes. 
  6. Once cooled pour the topping over the cooled cheese cake and spread evenly. Then top with the chocolate sprinkles and place the cheese cake back in the refrigerator to set for another 25-30 minutes. Then remove from the springform pan, cut and serve.

 


Helen Goldrein’s Cheese Cake Cookies


Image: Courtesy of Helen Goldrein

Prep time: about 30 minutes
Makes 12
Cooking time: 15 minutes

* U.S. measurements first; (U.K.) in parentheses

For the cheesecake filling:

  • 3 tablespoons (40g) cream cheese
  • 1/2 tablespoon (5g)  butter
  • 1 teaspoon (5g) sugar
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon (20g) dairy sour cream
  • 1 drop vanilla essence
  • Grated zest of half a lemon + 2 teaspoons juice

For the crust:

  • 1/2 cup (100g) self-raising flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • Good pinch cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons superfine sugar (35g golden caster sugar)
  • 1/4 cup (50g) butter or margarine
  • 2 tablespoons agave syrup (or use corn syrup or honey)

Directions for the cheesecake filling:

  1. Combine all the ingredients and mix thoroughly. Put into a shallow container and freeze for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Directions for the cookie crust:
  3. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and sugar) then add the butter/margarine and mix thoroughly to give lumpy crumbs.
  4. Warm the syrup then add to the crumbs and mix well to produce a dough.

To make the cookies:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F /180C. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Divide the dough into 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Flatten each ball of dough between your palms. Scoop 1/12 of the frozen filling mixture (approximately 1 teaspoon) onto the flattened dough. Bring up the sides of the dough around the filling and pinch together. Roll into a ball, ensuring that the filling is completely enclosed. Place on the lined baking sheet.
  2. Repeat with the remaining dough until you have made 12 balls.
  3. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool for a minute or two on the baking tray - the cookies will be very soft to begin with. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool down completely before serving.

 


The Roundup is a seasonal column that follows the best tips and trends of the season, and scours the foodosphere for the best recipes out there. Look out for the next one! Ronnie Fein is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher in Stamford. She is the author of The Modern Kosher Kitchen and Hip Kosher. Visit her food blog, Kitchen Vignettes, or connect with on FacebookTwitter or Instagram

 

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